We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver

I saw the movie probably six years ago and it left me speechless. It does not happen very often, probably happened less than ten times in me entire life, but I was speechless, there was nothing more to say, nothing to add, it was shattering. No surprise then that I dreaded the book, it’s been on my shelf for probably six years as well, I read some of Shriver’s other books and they convinced me she is a very good writer, and this in turn made me dread this book even more. Was I right? Hmm, no, I worried the book will leave me even more shattered than the movie, it didn’t, for it is very different.

The story is of course the same and I won’t go into it because either you know or I will spoil it for you, let me just say that we hear a voice of a mother whose teenage son became a mass murderer. What differs the book greatly from the movie is the pace, the movie is just under two hours long and it delivers a perfect punch, everything is timed just right to push us out of our comfort zone. The book is almost 500 pages long, therefore requiring an extended period of time, we stay in Eve’s world a lot longer. Two years after the tragedy Eve writes a series of letters to her husband, trying to make sense of what happened. Figuring out how it started, to what extent she is responsible, trying to understand herself in order to regain some control over her life, or at least a semblance of control.

She goes all the way back to the time when they decided to have a child and from there methodically unpicks her entire life, piece by piece, memory after memory. She doesn’t try to gain sympathy, she’s not necessarily the nicest of people, but she is desperate to understand where it all went wrong. This desperation is palpable, as she goes through the story her emotions go in circles, at times it becomes almost annoying, her obsession over things, the repetitiveness of the rhythm of her thoughts. She suffocates and suffocates us with her. The movie left me shocked and shattered, the book is protracted fall into depression, it is long, it is sad, annoying, unnerving, brutal and any number of negative adjectives that come to your mind to describe mood.

In her brutal honesty Eve often makes herself look bad, but she is not concerned with that, what she craves is objective judgement, yet she knows she is not capable of it, telling her own story as she is. The story that touches her in the deepest way possible, she craves the impossible. Desperate is definitely the word, and form Eve’s story we find out she’s been desperate for years. It is overwhelming, exhausting and moving. It is definitely not a book for someone who is still deciding whether to have children or not, trust me after reading this your choice will be made for you. I often found myself judging Eva as being selfish, but then thinking again and wondering why do we expect so much sacrifice from mothers, why can’t they be selfish? Eva questions the cultural boundaries and expectations, she tests to which extent we’re formed and imprisoned by them, our perception of happiness formed by them. It is a personal book, but also one about our society, what it expects of each of us and whether it has any right to do this.

Eva pities herself sometimes and at times I also wondered why she wouldn’t just up and leave, actually when I asked myself this question so does she, and she answers that it simply never crossed her mind. It is a very honest book, for a work of fiction. Eva is human all faults and mistakes included. I found myself really feeling for her, locked in a permanent escalating war with her child, losing trust and love of her beloved husband, the one who was supposed to be her rock her partner, we can feel how deeply this hurts Eva, it destroys her.

Ultimately this is what we get here a slow motion presentation of a destruction of a human being. As expected it is extremely painful to read. Do I recommend this book? No, because this would be like recommending putting your hand into boiling water, it burns and hurts long after. You need to decide for yourself.

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8 thoughts on “We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver

  1. Like you, I saw the film and the book has been languishing on my shelves for years! Thank you for such an excellent review so I’ve a better idea what to expect, as I had assumed it was similar to the film. I will read it sometime, when I feel up to it….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It definitely is challenging and uncormfortable. For me personally it was worth the effort, but I think with it being sucha personal book, everyone will react differently. I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts when you get to it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve always heard of this book but I’ve never actually read it, or seen the movie (although I watched the trailer after seeing this blog post!). Yikes, what a story. Your reference to putting your hand in boiling water is pure gold though.

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  3. Deepika Ramesh

    This is a fantastic review, Jo. Thank you. I haven’t watched the movie nor have I read the book. While I am intrigued to read it, I am going to park it for a while. Maybe after I land myself in a job.

    Liked by 1 person

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